The five words that made me a special needs advocate


I was already a special education teacher. I had friends with disabilities. I grew up with an IEP for severe speech impediments. But this wasn’t my passion yet. It was just a job. It wasn’t my heartbeat. Not yet.

Then I was called into the principal’s office at the end of my first year of teaching, and everything changed.

First, let me say that being asked to the principal’s office as a teacher feels a little bit like being hauled there as a student for misbehavior. I was nervous. I didn’t know why he needed to see me. I thought I might be in trouble.

Then as I entered the room and sat down, he smiled across the desk. I could see this wasn’t a bad thing. He began complimenting my teaching style and success with some challenging students. He described the good things he saw in a recent observation of my classroom. He wasn’t generally this positive, so I wasn’t sure what to make of his monologue.

Then those path-altering words came: “Miss Saunders [my name at the time, as I wasn’t married yet], you’re an excellent teacher, and those kids don’t deserve you. I’d like you to switch to general education where the kids can really benefit from a teacher like you. We can find someone else to fill your space in special education.”

I’m rarely left speechless. But for a moment, I couldn’t find any words to answer him. I didn’t realize it yet, but a switch had flipped in my soul. There was no going back.

I inhaled, choosing my words carefully.

“No, sir,” I started. “I appreciate your confidence in me, I do. But I need you to understand this: my students deserve an excellent teacher. They shouldn’t get less than any other child just because they’re in special education. If you insist on moving me to general education, I’ll resign. That’s not the job I want. No, thank you.”

I can’t remember what he said next. I vaguely remember a standing offer to change my mind later, if I so chose. I managed not to share my opinions about how vile I considered his words to be. I returned to my classroom, but special education was no longer just a job.

I was an advocate, forever changed. I knew, from then on, my life would be marked by making it clear that “those kids” deserve anything any other kids do. I still don’t care for that principal. But? God used his reprehensible flattery to shape me into who I am today.

For that, I am thankful.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.

shutterstock_120941872Key Ministry’s Annual Fund helps to support free training, consultation and support for churches seeking to welcome, serve and include families of kids with disabilities, and allows us to provide this blog as a resource for over 40,000 visitors each month. Please keep our team in your prayers as we prepare for 2016 and consider a generous financial gift to support the ongoing work of our ministry team.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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4 Responses to The five words that made me a special needs advocate

  1. Melanie says:

    Vile was a good word to describe that exchange. Aghast. Wow.


  2. Jennifer says:

    I know this man meant it as a compliment to the teacher, but “those kids don’t deserve you”…
    As a special needs mama, ‘them’s fighting words’.
    I’m so glad you had the sense to advocate; to stand in the gap. The world needs more of you. Since you’re in the minority, I homeschool. Because ‘Those kids’ deserve more than the attitude that they aren’t worth it.

    I can see completely why that was a catalyst moment for you.
    Thank you, ever so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Isabel Sanchez says:

    You are an exemplary teacher….thank you for pursuing your passion. The children who have the blessing of being your students will be shown true grace through you.


  4. Pingback: The five words that made me a special needs advocate | The Daily Advocate By Painspeaks

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